The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.432 Monday, 28 September 2015
Date: September 28, 2015 at 1:54:24 PM EDT
Subject: Shakespeare's father a shrewd and not so legal trader?
“[David] Fallow analysed financial records of the time, including wool markets, the value of exports from regional ports, statistics on the rise of trade in London and industry consolidation, as well as Stratford court documents from John Shakespeare’s illegal wool trading and the modest revenue generated by the theatres. Using his business acumen, he has pored over figures that he believes literary scholars have struggled to understand: “You get some very brilliant academic writing about Shakespeare. The minute they try to talk about money or numbers, it becomes almost incomprehensible.”
“Financial transactions and other surviving records have led him to conclude that the portrayal of John Shakespeare as a failed trader is a fable: “John Shakespeare was a national-level wool dealer, and legal research, coupled to analysis of the wool market, proves this. The Shakespeare family never fell into poverty.”
“He also argues that the family’s wealth could not have come just from William’s theatrical activities: “Nobody made a fortune from theatrical seat sales alone.”
The article goes on to note that Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust have commissioned Fallow to write a chapter in an upcoming Cambridge U Press book on alternative Shakespeare biographies.
My knowledge is far too limited to evaluated this information, but on the surface I think it makes good sense.
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.430 Friday, 25 September 2015
Date: September 24, 2015 at 1:24:05 PM EDT
Subject: Shakespeare’s Sonnets
This is a response to Ari Friedlander’s piece on Shakespeare that appeared in the Washington post a few weeks ago. The Post declined it. I’ve added some additional information available on the sonnets after the end of the piece:
Shakespeare’s sonnets have been misinterpreted for years, and it was not until Donald Foster’s magisterial 1987 essay on the epigraph attached to the sonnets by Thomas Thorpe did anyone realize that the sonnets were not addressed to a person whose initials were “W.H.”; rather, “W.H.” is a misprint for “W.SH.”, and Thorpe was merely praising Shakespeare himself. However, these facts are ignored even today by true believers who insist that there must be some real person to whom the sonnets are addressed.
Shakespeare’s habits of style and thought are quite consistent, even his habit of borrowing brief passages from other writers, and the sonnets are no exception because they reflect another one of his habits: reworking the themes, and even individual lines, of other writers. Most of his oeuvre, in fact, can be conceived as a response to prior literary efforts. For example, “Love’s Labor’s Lost” is Shakespeare’s take on John Lyly’s style of Euphuism, and “Troilus and Cressida” is Shakespeare’s take (or, what modern musicians would call a “cover”) on the brilliant long poem by Chaucer of the same title. Modern commentators rarely point out that the sonnets are also a response to earlier literary efforts. Sir Philip Sidney died in 1586, but his sonnet sequence survived and was published in 1591. This began a fad for sonnet sequences, and sequences by Samuel Daniel, Barnabe Barnes, Henry Constable, Edmund Spenser and others followed between 1591 and 1595.
A typical idea expressed in the sonnets is that the writer is not worthy of the beloved, and the beloved is depicted as possessing great (and unrealistic) virtues. Barnabe Barnes carried this to an extreme, and one of his sonnets expresses the wish that the speaker of the sonnet (who may be the author or a fictional device) become a glass of wine so that he may be passed through his beloved’s privates:
Barnabe Barnes Sonnet 63 from “Parthenophil & Parthenophe”, 1593.
Jove for Europa's love took shape of Bull,
And for Calisto played Diana's part,
And in a golden shower he filled full
The lap of Danae, with celestial art.
Would I were changed but to my Mistress' gloves,
That those white lovely fingers I might hide,
That I might kiss those hands, which mine heart loves
Or else that chain of pearl (her neck's vain pride)
Made proud with her neck's veins, that I might fold
About that lovely neck, and her paps tickle,
Or her to compass like a belt of gold,
Or that sweet wine which down her throat doth trickle,
To kiss her lips and lie next at her heart,
Run through her veins, and pass by Pleasure's part.
Shakespeare was certainly intelligent enough to realize how ridiculous such ideas are, and he brilliantly lampoons them in his play “Love’s Labor’s Lost”. There, three nobleman try to woo three noblewomen in part by writing sonnets to them. At the end of the play, the ladies tell the men to go to “some forlorn and naked hermitage”, and they will return in a year to see if the men have come to their senses. Shakespeare likewise highlights the difference between talking and doing in his play “Much Ado About Nothing”. In act 4, scene 1 (played brilliantly by Amy Acker and Alexis Denis of in the recent Joss Whedon film), Beatrice is tired of all the talking by the men:
Benedict: Tarry, good Beatrice. By this hand, I love thee.
Beatrice: Use it for my love some other way than swearing by it.
Shakespeare’s mockery of romantic literary conventions extends to the poem attached to the sonnets, “A Lover’s Complaint”. There, a maiden sighs over a lover who loved and left her, but in the end she says that it was so exciting, she wishes he would return and ravish her again. In the sonnets themselves, Shakespeare turns the conventions on their head. Rather than address the opening sonnets to an unattainable female ideal, he addresses them to a literally unattainable man, urging him to marry to pass on his beauty to his children. Shakespeare’s diction mocks simultaneously the exaggerated diction of conventional sonnets but also the exaggerated manner in which men of the time wrote of their affection for each other. Later in the sequence, Shakespeare addresses sonnets to a woman, not some ideal beauty, but rather, a woman of apparently low morals, possibly a prostitute. Still later in his sequence, he creates a simile of a housewife (possibly his own wife) as she chases a chicken around her home:
Shakespeare Sonnet 143:
Lo as a careful huswife runs to catch
One of her feathered creatures broke away,
Sets down her babe and makes all swift dispatch
In pursuit of the thing she would have stay;
Whilst her neglected child holds her in chase,
Cries to catch her whose busy care is bent
To follow that which flies before her face,
Not prizing her poor infant's discontent;
So run'st thou after that which flies from thee,
Whilst I, thy babe, chase thee afar behind,
But if thou catch thy hope, turn back to me,
And play the mother's part, kiss me, be kind.
So will I pray that thou mayst have thy Will,
If thou turn back and my loud crying still.
The idea that some real person or persons is portrayed in the sonnets is belied by the fact that most of the sonnets are modeled on earlier efforts by other writers, and Shakespeare borrows phrases and lines lock stock and barrel for his own sonnets. For example, the “beauty’s rose” phrase in Shakespeare’s sonnet 1 is taken verbatim from Barnes’ sonnet 45.
The sonnets are in fact a potpourri of ideas governed by the central idea of mocking the conventions of romance in literature as they were conceived in his day. In my view, modern attempts to find real persons as the addressee trivialize his great literary achievement.
An interesting series on the literary sources of the sonnets is currently in progress at humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare. If you go to https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare and search for “fictional universe of the sonnets”, the posts come up. They are numbered, one title for example is “11 The Fictional Universe of the Sonnets - The Eternity Trope”, and there is even an index that is updated regularly with titles like: “Update 6: An Index to “The Fictional Universe of the Sonnets””.